The End of an Era

After years of uncomfortably low-cost flying, I got my first taste of a ‘proper’ – that is, with a flat bed – business class experience in 2013. I was immediately hooked, and haven’t settled for a mere seat on long haul since! Better still, through a combination of redeeming frequent flyer miles, staff travel perks and premium standby, I’ve never paid a commercial business class fare.

Admittedly, this only amounts to a handful of flights – so few, in fact, that I covered every one here or on FlyerTalk along the way:

  • January 2013, San Diego – London, BA Club World, Boeing B777 (upgrade using avios)
  • June 2015, London – Shannon – New York, BA Club World London City, Airbus A318 ‘babybus’ (Avios redemption)
  • June 2015, New York – Vancouver, Cathay Pacific Business class, Boeing B777 (Avios redemption)
  • June 2015, Los Angeles – London, BA Club World, Airbus A380 (premium standby)
  • April 2017, London – New York – London, BA Club World, Boeing B747 (duty travel)

(Naturally this list is dominated by British Airways – I’ve actually tried all of their aircraft with Club World seating, although the two missing from the list above, the A321 and B787, were only briefly sampled on short haul routes.)

I mention all these now as our trip to the US meant that one of these streaks had to end: I no longer work for BA, and my Avios budget couldn’t stretch to two return tickets. Fortunately with the boost of an upgrade voucher there were enough miles to get us both to Seattle in style, meaning I could stave off having to pay my way for a little longer. But that also meant that we’d be switching to premium economy (on Norwegian) for the return leg, making this the end of my ‘strictly business’ streak. Since it would also be Alaina’s first time in Club World, I had to hope she wouldn’t become as rapidly enamoured of it as I had…

In truth I had imagined last year’s jaunt to New York would be my last opportunity to fly Club World for a while, so I had deliberately maneuvered myself onto a 747 service to check out the small upper deck cabin. But as Seattle is exclusively served by ‘the queen of the skies’, I’d be able to repeat that experience a third time- provided I stumped up £200 in seat selection fees! Whilst I resisted at the time of booking, it was inevitable that I would do so, and sure enough three months later I secured 63A/B.

The flight itself ran us 100,000 Avios, a Lloyds upgrade voucher, and a chunky £782 in taxes and charges. Since (as noted) I’ve never used cash for such tickets, it’s pointless quoting a notional value per Avios – we got something nicer for a price we would be prepared to pay, rather than saving money. But this large redemption effectively maximised the value of the upgrade voucher, which substituted for 50,000 Avios here – not bad for a mere £24 annual fee! Once I’ve rebuilt the stash, however, I should do the maths on the BA-branded American Express card with its even more powerful two-for-one voucher.

~

With our home in Bristol but our flight departing from Heathrow, we took the simplest, rather than most cost-effective, route to the airport: a GWR train to Paddington (about two hours, £45) then backtracking on the Heathrow Express (about 20 minutes, £33). This all went without a hitch, placing us at the terminal a good two and a half hours before departure.

I hadn’t told Alaina we’d be flying in Club until today; whilst I probably could have passed off the lounge as a credit card perk, I needed to explain why our status-less selves could use the priority bag drop line. Although had I not pointed it out, the experience probably would not have given the game away: so long was this line that it took 25 minutes to dispatch our suitcases into the depths of T5. Priority security worked better than priority check-in, getting us airside in ten minutes.

This still left plenty of time for lunch courtesy of Galleries South (which I’d steered us to on autopilot, having forgotten that the B satellite has a lounge which would probably have been quieter). We set off to the gate before officially instructed by the departure screens; this seemed foolish at first, with no sign of plane nor passengers. However, on closer inspection we weren’t early, but almost late, as the flight was in final boarding… by bus.

Whilst that’s less convenient than strolling along a jet bridge, boarding a 747 by stairs does a much better job of conveying the scale of the aircraft – and that of the journey it will soon undertake. Although it probably helped my sense of wonder that it was a warm day and we’d be continuing our climb another storey once inside; queuing in the rain to shuffle down to economy might have had less appeal.

BA 747 Upper Deck

We took our seats mere minutes before the scheduled 15:30 departure, so I had no expectation of that being met; but I was in no rush, and once pre-departure champagne appeared, nor was Alaina. Probably for the best, as pushback wasn’t until 16:05, and another 35 minutes elapsed before we were lining up on the runway!

That gave plenty of time to peruse the menus, which ran as follows (apologies, as a non-drinker I lack the motivation to recreate the extensive bar listing)

Lunch

Starters


Severn and Wye Scottish smoked salmon

Crayfish cocktail, avocado, slow-roasted heirloom tomatoes


Char-grilled asparagus

Summer truffle, Burford egg


Rich tomato soup

Basil oil


Fresh seasonal salad

Baby gem lettuce, puffed kasha, olives, red onion, feta cheese, choice of Caesar dressing or mustard dressing

Please choose from our selection

Corn-fed breast of chicken
Buttered Charlotte new potatoes, fricassée of summer vegetables


Seared fillet of British beef

Spring onion and cream mashed potato, smoked garlic tenderstem broccoli, Madeira rosemary jus

Wild rocket and courgette risotto

Summer vegetables, Amalfi lemon

Selection of desserts & cheese

Lemon, raspberry and almond slice
Chantilly cream, fresh raspberry


Vanilla bean cheesecake

Strawberry


Warm chocolate and walnut brownie

Vanilla crème anglaise


Strawberries


Cheese board

Coastal Cheddar
West Country brie
Shropshire blue
Walnuts, apricot chutney, biscuits

Afternoon Tea

Snacks


An individual selection of sandwiches featuring:

Succulent chicken breast, slow-roasted tomato, creamy Caesar dressing, wild rocket on bar-marked tortilla

Smoked salmon flakes, cucumber, lemon and dill crème fraîche dressing on wholemeal mini bridge roll

Brie, wild mountain cranberry sauce, rocket on brioche roll


Plain or fruit scones

Served warm, clotted cream, strawberry preserve

or


Tapas plate

Woodall’s air-dried ham, Cumberland salami, harissa hummus, spinach and potato tortilla

Sweets


Chocolate glaze cake

~

Dining began at six with a selection from a basket of warm bread. Service was using the new (to me) presentation trolley, which I really liked (but couldn’t easily photograph!). Identically plated copies of each dish help create a restaurant-grade experience, whilst the fully-laden trolley also conveyed a sense of plenty in contrast to typically small airplane servings. It also seemed to work well from a practical standpoint: starter at 6:10, main at 6:25, and everything cleared away by 6:55.

Here’s what I received for both dinner and the later ‘afternoon tea’ offering:

I mention that second meal now because otherwise, there’s not much to discuss: upper deck life is just effortlessly comfortable. With so few passengers it’s quiet, there’s no battling for storage space, the ratio of bathrooms to people is about as good as it gets, and I’m used to the Club World seat and how best to arrange it to my preference. All this I will miss. Alaina had the window seat so I didn’t get too many pictures, but the perpetual afternoon of our flight meant there was plenty to see, with (what I assume was) Greenland an icy highlight.

Greenland?

The approach was also enjoyable, and landing at 17:47 meant we’d clawed back some of the Heathrow delay. We were first to the immigration desks, from which we were promptly dismissed as we hadn’t been given a customs form on the plane. Despite that (and a small queue that formed as we tracked one down), we were through less than half an hour after wheels down; I continue to find US immigration quicker and friendlier than its reputation. Unfortunately that just meant longer in the chaotic baggage reclaim area, where we would stay for a good forty minutes as first one, then another, then both carousels were declared as the arrival point of our cases. This was tricky enough to manage as a couple – for solo travellers it must have been particularly frustrating. Eventually, though, we were reunited with our possessions and made our way into Seattle.